Standardize on Standards

Standards are an excellent data-point to add to your evaluation matrix when deciding on your shortlist of suppliers. They give a sense of confidence that the particular company has been held up to some form of evaluation and validation.

However, what does it actually mean that the supplier is certified? are all standards created equal? When two suppliers have two different standard accreditations how do you decide between them?

At, Standards come in three broad categories:

  • International Standards - these generally instruct processes
  • Mandatory Standards, these tend to be either Technical standards or Governmental Standards
  • Industry Standards - These are voluntary and self-controlled within the industry

We are in the process of adding this standard information to all of our data.

International Standards

These tend to be originated and maintained by organisations formed specifically for the purpose of maintaining standards. The International Standards Organisation (ISO) is the most well known, but there are other bodies that also have more industry specific focus, e.g. the IEC.

A large number of international standards revolve around defining things we all take for granted, communication, measurements and symbols. These aren't really applicable to this discussion. The international standards that are applicable tend to revolve around processes, processes for quality, business continuity, automation and project management are available.

Mandatory Standards

The US government currently manages over 50,000 mandatory standards to regulate various industries. These are the standards that for example ensure that cars have the same minimum safety standards, and that electrical appliances use the same voltage.

Mandatory standards tend to be very specific, set minimum tolerances, and ensure that parts, equipment and products perform the same way regardless of supplier, as such quality tends to be somewhat taken as a given when these standards are applied.

However, be careful of just believing this blindly, one only has to look at the number of SUV recalls over recent years to realize that sometimes even the regulators get it wrong, or rather the regulated standards fail to be implemented.

Industry Standards

In the US alone there are over 40,000 standards built up by volunteers within industry. There’s a standard for everything from building contractors to accountants. Industry standards are big business, so you will find organisations developing, teaching and promoting their own standard which would be hard to differentiate from a competing standard.

Just because they originate as voluntary doesn't exclude them from being adopted as mandatory standards, for example local governments frequently use established industry standards as qualification for tax incentives.

Using Standards

Standards make up a useful data-point in your Supplier Evaluation score-sheet. Which standard depends entirely on your industry but the fundamental point of standards is very simple: To give you confidence in what you're buying is what you're expecting.

In this regard, the procedural standards such as ISO9000 are very useful since you know that thought has been applied to getting this right and as a customer you can likely ask for an abridged version of the standardized documentation to ensure you understand your suppliers processes, allowing you to make better predictions of supplier performance.

The final word should always be to not blindly trust "certification", recall the SUV example, both suppliers and enforcers get it wrong from time to time, you have to take personal ownership to enforce your suppliers stick to the standards they claim to adhere to.